Loosening the Connection?

Commission on a Way Forward members (L-R) Bishop Gregory Palmer, Jasmine Rose Smothers, Dave Nuckols and Jorge Acevedo. Photo by Diane Degnan (UM Communications).

By Heather Hahn-

The 32 members of the Commission on a Way Forward are getting down to the business of doing what their name says — helping a denomination deeply divided over homosexuality move toward some sort of future together. That future could end up looking very different than how The United Methodist Church operates at present. The multinational commission held its third meeting April 6-8 in Washington. Just as was true with its first two meetings, the commission’s third gathering was closed to reporters.

“We’re acknowledging that there are deep-seated differences in the church, and there are parts of the church that are not able to live together in a close connection,” the Rev. Thomas Lambrecht said. “So we are looking at ways to loosen the connection. What form that might take, we don’t know yet.”

Matt Berryman agreed with Lambrecht’s assessment. “What we’re contemplating is loosening the connection in the face of conflict over whether there needs to be uniformity of practice and belief around LGBTQ people,” Berryman said.

Scott Johnson of Upper New York cautioned not to get too carried away with the idea of “loosening the connection.” “I think there is no question we still see a connected United Methodist church,” he said. “We’re working toward unity.”

The group brings together clergy and laity from nine countries and of diverse perspectives. At least three members, including Berryman, are openly gay. Still others, like Lambrecht, have long advocated for maintaining the bans on same-gender unions and “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy.

“We are trying to think about and model the new behaviors that will help leaders who deeply care about the church to see new forms and structures that will allow for differing expressions of the global church,” Florida Area Bishop Ken Carter, told UMNS. He is one of three bishops who is moderating the commission’s work.

The group is not only looking at a way through the impasse around homosexuality but also how to increase vitality of local churches and strengthen the church’s mission. According to a press release about the meeting, the commission members indicated they are leaning toward a simpler structure “with clearer processes for decision-making and accountability.”

The Rev. Tom Berlin, lead pastor of Floris United Methodist Church in Herndon, Virginia, said the commission still doesn’t know what “simpler” would look like. “We just have a sense that it’s a lot more complicated than it needs to be,” he said. “That’s why you are hearing people say, ‘simpler’ and ‘looser.’” Berlin added that in his experience, The United Methodist Church is “a denomination that likes the tension of different perspectives.”

For any of its proposals to become reality, the commission needs the assent of General Conference delegates. Bishops are considering calling a special General Conference in 2019.

Heather Hahn is a reporter for the United Methodist News Service. Vicki Brown, UMNS news editor, contributed to this report. This article was adapted from UM News Service.

Comments

  1. Bob Brooke says:

    So, it’s down to just “considering” a special called General Conference in 2019.How is that not kicking the can down the road?

  2. Licensed Local pastor says:

    Well it certainly seems like the commission is not going to kick the can down the road this time.

  3. Byron Alexander says:

    “Loosening the connection”, seems to me we already have a loose connection. Churches and Annual Conference vote to disobey Scripture and The rules in the The Discipline, and the Church doesn’t practice Church discipline as it is written! How much looser can you get? Be honest and call it for what it is, a broken covenant that will never be united! Let’s shake the dust from our sandals and move on, each UMC congregation deciding for themselves where they stand and how they want to be know before God and mankind. Name it and claim it regardless of where you are at on the theological spectrum and be willing to walk away from the money if necessary.

    • Ruth E Hand says:

      Amen! God bless you for calling this issue exactly what it is: an attempt to make Methodist unity more important than Gods Word. This division has nothing to do with the denomination or “getting along.” It’s about the truth of God’s inerrant Word and whether or not we will stand strong on it. Denying that for the sake of staying united as a denomination is the same as denying Christ who is the Living Word. If God calls something, such as homosexuality, “an abomination in His sight,” the united agreement of all of mankind that it is acceptable does not change that truth. It merely puts those who don’t accept it on the wrong side of the wide path that leads to destruction. To paraphrase an old quote, “If we don’t stand strong on the truth of God’s Word, we’ll fall for anything.” How the devil must love all this conflict between those who call themselves Christian. Perhaps it’s time to redefine exactly what constitutes a true Christian by Christ’s definition..

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